Tag: autopsies

Bioethics Blogs

PLOS Collection on Minimally Invasive Autopsies in Low- and Middle-Income Countries

PLOS Medicine Senior Editor Amy Ross introduces the Minimally Invasive Autopsy Collection High quality data on the cause of death are important to help prioritize health policies, particularly in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) where mortality burden

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics News

Can Craig Venter Cheat Death?

“In Vietnam, I used to do autopsies on 18-to-22-year-olds, and a lot of them had cardiovascular disease,” J. Craig Venter, the architect of the process, says with a shrug, before adding, ominously, “We find things. The question is what you do with it.”

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics News

Is it true that there are vaccines produced using aborted fetuses?

pdfSome of the vaccines currently used to prevent diseases such as rubella, measles, rabies, poliomyelitis, hepatitis A, chickenpox or smallpox are produced using tissues from human abortions.

The vaccines consist of dead or attenuated live viruses that are introduced into the patient’s body to activate the body’s defences against that virus without becoming ill. Thus, if the patient subsequently enters into contact with the live virus, it will be unable infect him, since he has the necessary defences to cope with it, i.e. he is immunised.

To prepare the vaccines, the viruses must be cultured in cells in the laboratory. The ethical difficulty appears when these cells come from surgically-aborted human foetuse. Similarly, the viruses themselves can be obtained from aborted foetuses that have been infected with a particular virus. An article published in 2008 in Cuadernos de Bioetica includes detailed information on the different cells and viral strains originating from these sources.

Cells used and vaccines produced using aborted fetuses

The most widely used foetal cells are WI-38 and MRC-5. The WI-38 cells were derived by Leonard Hayflick in 1962 from the lung of a 3-month female foetus [2].The initials WI refer to the Wistar Institute, a body of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and number 38 to the foetus from which the cells were obtained. The MRC-5 cells were obtained in 1966 from the lungs of a 14-week male foetus [3].The initials MRC indicate Medical Research Council, a body from London. Other cells derived from surgically-aborted foetuses are: WI-1, WI-3, WI-11, WI-16, WI-18, WI-19, WI-23, WI-24, WI-25, WI-26, WI-27, WI-44, MRC-9, IMR-90, and R-17 (obtained from lung); WI-2, WI-12 and WI-20, (skin and muscle); WI-5 (muscle); WI-8 and WI-14, and WS1 (skin); WI-4, WI-9, WI-10, WI-13 and WI-15 (kidney); WI-6, WI-21 and WI-22 (heart); WI-7 (thymus and thyroids), WI-17 (liver); FHs74Int (small intestine); and PER.C6

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics News

Is it true that there are vaccines produced using aborted foetuses?

pdfSome of the vaccines currently used to prevent diseases such as rubella, measles, rabies, poliomyelitis, hepatitis A, chickenpox or smallpox are produced using tissues from human abortions.

The vaccines consist of dead or attenuated live viruses that are introduced into the patient’s body to activate the body’s defences against that virus without becoming ill. Thus, if the patient subsequently enters into contact with the live virus, it will be unable infect him, since he has the necessary defences to cope with it, i.e. he is immunised.

To prepare the vaccines, the viruses must be cultured in cells in the laboratory. The ethical difficulty appears when these cells come from surgically-aborted human foetuse. Similarly, the viruses themselves can be obtained from aborted foetuses that have been infected with a particular virus. An article published in 2008 in Cuadernos de Bioetica includes detailed information on the different cells and viral strains originating from these sources.

Cells used and vaccines produced using aborted foetuses

The most widely used foetal cells are WI-38 and MRC-5. The WI-38 cells were derived by Leonard Hayflick in 1962 from the lung of a 3-month female foetus [2].The initials WI refer to the Wistar Institute, a body of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and number 38 to the foetus from which the cells were obtained. The MRC-5 cells were obtained in 1966 from the lungs of a 14-week male foetus [3].The initials MRC indicate Medical Research Council, a body from London. Other cells derived from surgically-aborted foetuses are: WI-1, WI-3, WI-11, WI-16, WI-18, WI-19, WI-23, WI-24, WI-25, WI-26, WI-27, WI-44, MRC-9, IMR-90, and R-17 (obtained from lung); WI-2, WI-12 and WI-20, (skin and muscle); WI-5 (muscle); WI-8 and WI-14, and WS1 (skin); WI-4, WI-9, WI-10, WI-13 and WI-15 (kidney); WI-6, WI-21 and WI-22 (heart); WI-7 (thymus and thyroids), WI-17 (liver); FHs74Int (small intestine); and PER.C6

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Interview with Dr. Marcia Angell, former Editor-in-Chief of the New England Journal of Medicine

by Mike Reaves

Dr. Marcia Angell is an American physician, author, and the first woman to serve as editor-in-chief of The New England Journal of Medicine. Dr. Angell joined the Journal’s staff in 1979, became executive Editor in 1988, and served as Editor-in-Chief of the journal until June of 2000. She is currently on the faculty of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. Her most popular work, The Truth About the Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us and What to Do About It (2004), is critical of big industry in healthcare and its role in research and medicine. In April of 2016, I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Angell for a discussion about some of the most controversial topics in healthcare economics, regulation, journalism, and politics.

I solicited Dr. Angell’s opinion on a recent decision regarding pharmaceutical companies, Amarin Pharma, Inc. v. United States. This decision holds that the First-Amendment protects off-label drug promotion by pharmaceutical companies. Dr. Angell indicated that it is difficult to prove that unethical behavior occurs in the promotion of off-label drugs because it is hard to monitor the behavior. She believes there will not be much success in the prosecution of individuals responsible for pushing these marketing strategies, and that jail time will likely be the only deterrent in an industry that incurs fines as a cost of doing business. 

I asked Dr. Angell about the Journal’s recent policy changes regarding conflict of interest. The current Editor of the Journal, Jeffery Drazen, has loosened the conflict of interest policy, which now allows authors of editorials and review articles to receive up to $10,000 from each drug company.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics News

When Genetic Autopsies Go Awry

October 11, 2016

(The Atlantic) – Mayo Clinic doctor Michael Ackerman pioneered the so-called molecular autopsy in 1999, using a DNA test to explain the sudden death of a 19-year-old woman with a previously-undiagnosed inherited heart condition. Since then, sequencing DNA has become orders of magnitude cheaper and more sophisticated. With medical examiners considering DNA tests as part of autopsy reports, the molecular autopsy has raised new ethical concerns. Family members, in looking for an explanation for their grief, might end up finding unsettling things about themselves.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics News

Overdose Deaths Overwhelm Medical Examiner, Coroner Offices

June 23, 2016

(Medical Xpress) – Soaring numbers of overdose deaths are adding to woes already plaguing medical examiner and coroner offices, resulting in a shortage of spots to store bodies and long delays in autopsies and toxicology testing. The Connecticut medical examiner’s office has considered renting a refrigerated truck to store extra bodies because its storage area has neared capacity at times. In Wisconsin, the Milwaukee County medical examiner’s office sometimes has to put bodies on Army-style cots in its refrigerated storage area because it runs out of gurneys. The Hamilton County coroner’s office in Cincinnati has a 100-day backlog of DNA testing for police drug investigations, largely because of increased overdose deaths.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

CONCUSSION: Bioethics, Foot Ball and Post Traumatic Lies.

Concussion is a documentary biography about medical science’s triumph over a social and corporate conspiracy to suppress evidence of a serious preventable disease. Forensic pathologist, Bennett Omalu, MD, discovered a pathognomonic sign confirming chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). He happened to find it in a cluster of professional football players during autopsies. Concussion was written and directed by Peter Landesman, who managed a riveting story pace, despite most of the visuals occurring in the inglorious world of microscopes and morgues —done to death on television. 

Will Smith’s Dr. Omalu in the lead role is a flawless interpretation of African born Omalu. The supporting cast includes Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Luke Wilson, Albert Brooks, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and others. Ridley Scott is the principle producer. This is a heavy hitter production. Though several Black film awards recognized the work, few others have. Perhaps this is because the lead character is a Black man who is not blowing up anything, except the gladiator culture we like to call Football.

Concussion is a gentle story where a brilliant man driven by unflappable moral instinct does the right thing. Others join him, many kicking and screaming, eventually recognizing the effects of repetitive concussions in football and so elsewhere. The fact that this bold faced David and Goliath story, taking on the industry of Football, has had such a poor reception is a shocking, though not a surprising, eyebrow raising event. As the old word play goes, “Denial is more than a river in Africa.” 

Traumatic Brain Injuries from bomb blast during war, car crashes, playing football and other sports, share similar features.(See

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics News

Clues to a Family’s Heart Disease

May 2, 2016

(The Wall Street Journal) – Ms. Robinson and members of her family are now participating in an unusual medical study in which researchers are seeking to identify genetic anomalies that underlie the arrhythmias that cause the heart to stop. By performing so-called molecular autopsies, which involve sequencing the DNA of victims and their immediate relatives, the researchers hope to provide families like Ms. Robinson’s with information about their risk and to guide strategies for preventing further tragedy.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Margaret Lock Offers Dementia’s Realism Instead of Hope

Cynthia Martin writes that unlike cancer’s new push to accelerate treatment (recently launched under the banner Cancer Moonshot2020), there is no Alzheimer’s MoonShot2020.

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William Utermohlen’s self-portraits, executed after his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, are haunting. Not so much the first portrait he did in 1996 when he was 60 with its orange swaths and questioning eyes, but subsequent paintings and drawings charting a course of degradation and jumbling angst. These works of art, like the Alzheimer’s they document, are difficult to forget. I want to know – do the portraits exhibit impressions of himself or show decline in his artistic abilities? His paintings are a sombre end to a sobering speech given by visiting speaker Dr. Margaret Lock – the last in a series of NTE: Impact Ethics events for Alzheimer’s Awareness month (January 2016). Unlike many talks on Alzheimer’s and dementia, this one doesn’t end with hope, a hint of a cure or optimistic timeline – vaccine by 2025! – confidence via an exclamation mark.

Like researchers, every person in this packed hall has come seeking clues. Some of us have also come out of fear; we’ve come because of our unsettled guesses as to who will wear diapers and who will change them. More generally, we have come to hear Lock explain the conundrums of science. Lock is a realist and does not pander; she is firm in her belief that “research is not making the strides we’ve heard about.” Lock tells us Alzheimer’s is dementia’s most common form, “a diffuse multi-form syndrome that includes Lewy body.”

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.